Ancient DNA from pre-pottery Neolithic people gives new genetic insights on Mesopotamian culture

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE (AAAS)—A new analysis of Neolithic-era people from Çayönü Tepesi in the Upper Tigris portion of Mesopotamia adds genomic data that clarifies archaeological findings, defining how ancestral immigration helped the ancient settlement become a hub for cultural interaction. “The question has remained as to whether this cultural dynamism was driven by large-scale population circulation at the site, especially through connections with distant regions of the Fertile Crescent, or whether it purely reflected the local community’s ingenuity,” said N. Ezgi Altınışık, first author of the study. “Our 13 ancient genomes, the largest sample produced yet from this region, allowed us to finally address this.” From roughly 8600 to 6800 BCE, Çayönü was a community that produced countless innovations in agriculture, animal husbandry, architecture, and technology. But there had not been a genetic analysis of the site’s inhabitants until now. Here, Altınışık and colleagues share new findings on the Çayönü people’s ancestral history and familial ties. To do so, they extracted ancient DNA from 14 people, including 2 suspected to be identical twins, discovered in a burial site. This gave them 13 distinct genomes spanning 8500-7500 BCE. Analyses revealed the community’s ancestors included a blend of demographics from both the East and West Fertile Crescent, indicating waves of migrations. Yet, results showed these large waves had stopped by the time that the people studied were alive. The team also examined 76 pairs of people who were buried together and established degrees of relatedness. This provided genetic evidence for an existing hypothesis that family ties influenced co-burial practices in Çayönü. During this work, the authors noted intentional head-shaping and cauterization on a toddler’s cranium, which are some of the earliest examples of this treatment in the region. The toddler was likely a migrant, implying that Çayönü was a community open to outsiders. “Her maternal lineage is probably from the east, while her paternal lineage was likely local, and she was buried in the same house as an individual we estimate to be her paternal great-aunt,” Altınışık said. “Hence, we find people moving and integrating, and these small-scale movements could be among the factors shaping cultural dynamism in Çayönü.”


Cranial features of the cay008 toddler. Altınışık et al., Sci. Adv. 8, eabo3609 (2022)



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